B.K. Stevens’ Iphigenia Woodhouse

AHMM April 2000Ex-cop turned private detective, Iphigenia Woodhouse, premiered in the Mid-Dec 1991 edition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, in a story called “Night Vision.” Her assistant, Harriet Russo, appears on the cover of AHMM April 2000, painted by Tomek Olbinski, for the sixth mystery, “A Wild Justice.”

Author B.K. Stevens shared the series origins in her interview in The Digest Enthusiast book six, excerpted below:

Iphigenia Woodhouse began, in part, as a response to some of the fictional female private detectives who became popular in the 1980s and 1990s. I enjoyed many of the novels and stories about those detectives, but their lives seemed very different from the lives of most of the women I knew. Usually, these detectives had no family obligations: Their parents were dead, their husbands (if any) divorced, their children nonexistent. If they liked, they could choose mentors they found compatible, have sex with men they found attractive, offer guidance to young people they found interesting. All their relationships were voluntary and temporary: They didn’t owe anybody anything and could move on whenever they chose. If they decided to fly to another city to pursue a lead, they didn’t have to coordinate schedules with anyone or arrange for childcare. In those respects, they had more in common with traditional male fictional private detectives than with most women today. That’s fine—it’s probably healthy to fantasize about complete independence from time to time. But I thought it might be interesting to write about a female private detective whose life is both enriched and limited by deep, lasting ties and obligations.

AHMM Mid-Dec. 1991 Woodhouse/Russo #1 “Night Vision” reprinted in Women of Mystery, ed. Cynthia Manson (Carroll & Graf, 1992)
AHMM Dec. 1993 Woodhouse/Russo #2 “Sideshow” reprinted in Women of Mystery II, ed. Cynthia Manson (Carroll & Graf, 1994); reprinted as “Une simple diversion” in Histoires d’homicides a domicile (Livre de Poche, 1995)
AHMM Dec. 1994 Woodhouse/Russo #3 “Death in Small Doses” reprinted in Women of Mystery III, ed. Kathleen Halligan (Carroll & Graf, 1998); reprinted in translation in a collection published by Livre de Poche
AHMM May 1996 Woodhouse/Russo #4 “Butlers in Love”
AHMM Jun. 1998 Woodhouse/Russo #5 “The Devil Hath Power”
AHMM April 2000 Woodhouse/Russo #6 “A Wild Justice”
AHMM May 2003 Woodhouse/Russo #7 “More Deadly to Give”
AHMM May 2008 Woodhouse/Russo #8 “Table for None”
AHMM Jul/Aug 2013 Woodhouse/Russo #9 “Murder Will Speak”

B.K. Stevens on process

AHMM July 1991
AHMM July 1991 with B.K. Stevens’ “Final Jeopardy” Cover by Val Lakey Lindahn

An excerpt from B.K. Stevens’ interview from The Digest Enthusiast book six. Here she discusses her process, working out a plot, and weaving a list of suspects together.

It probably won’t come as a big surprise when I say my writing process varies significantly from story to story. Once in a while—and I wish it happened more often—I’ll get an idea for a story, devote only a little time to planning, plunge into the story, and write it straight through. Usually, the process isn’t nearly that simple and delightful. Usually, when I get an idea for a story—and it’s sometimes only a title, sometimes a murder method or a character or a plot twist—I write it down in a computer file titled “Notebook.” Ideas often languish there for years or decades—dozens still languish and will doubtlessly never go further. But sometimes I eventually think of a way to make the idea work, or I look through the notebook for inspiration, run across an idea I’d forgotten about, and see new potential in it.

When I decide I definitely want to try to turn an idea into a story, I sit down at the computer and start taking notes about it, using a method I called “focused freewriting” when I taught English: I stay focused on the story but write down virtually anything that comes to mind about it, from plot possibilities to bits of description to thoughts about theme. Sometimes, I’ll put together a list of major incidents in the plot; occasionally, I’ve used a variation on the “beat sheet” Blake Snyder recommends in Save the Cat; often, I don’t come up with anything that formal or orderly. For one recent story, I took a page and a half of notes; for another, I took forty- seven pages of single-spaced notes before finding the key to making the story work. (The second story was a whodunit—I have to take far more notes for whodunits than for other sorts of mysteries.) When I feel I have a clear idea of the story’s direction, I start writing the first scene.

B.K. Stevens’ Johnson & Bolt

AHMM June 1988
AHMM June 1988 (Johnson/Bolt #1) “True Detective” Cover by J. Rafal and Tom Olbinski

Excerpt from B.K. Stevens’ interview from The Digest Enthusiast book six:

TDE: How did the Lt. Johnson and Sgt. Bolt series develop, and why did you choose to tell the stories as letters?

BKS: Believe it or not, the premise for the Walt Johnson and Gordon Bolt series came to me in a dream. I’d been writing mysteries for two or three years, without coming up with anything publishable, when I woke up one morning with a vivid impression of a scene. Two police detectives are walking across the grounds of a large estate, talking. The first detective says, “It was a clever murder, wasn’t it?” The second replies, “Not so very clever—unless you mean
the part about the horse.” The first detective is utterly confused—it had never occurred to him that a horse might be involved. “What horse?” he demands. The second detective misinterprets his question and says, “Does it matter what horse? One from the stables, I suppose.”

That sliver of conversation defined the characters of Walt and Bolt, established the relationship between them, and set the pattern for every story in the series. Walt Johnson is a highly respected police lieutenant. Everyone, especially his adoring subordinate, Sergeant Gordon Bolt, sees him as a brilliant detective. But Walt is in fact a dim bulb, earnest and well-meaning but always in a fog. He blunders through his cases, missing every clue, blurting out clichés and irrelevant observations that reveal just how lost he is. Bolt, much smarter than Walt but far too humble, thinks Walt is a genius and seizes on everything he says, misinterpreting all his muddle-headed remarks as dazzling deductions. Bolt’s the true detective. He’s always the one who figures everything out, and Walt’s always the one who gets the credit. Walt feels guilty about it but lacks the courage to admit the truth to anyone, including Bolt. That’s the basic plot for all twelve Bolt and Walt stories.

As for the letter-writing form of the stories, I read several epistolary novels in graduate school, including Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa—I didn’t love the novels, but I was intrigued by the form. (And I relished Henry Fielding’s epistolary parody of Richardson, Shamela.) I also read Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, an early mystery and a variation on epistolary form, and I was struck by Jane Austen’s use of long letters in novels such as Pride and Prejudice. When I gobbled up Dorothy Sayers’ works, I liked her use of epistolary form in “The Documents in the Case,” a long short story she wrote with Robert Eustace. So when I cast about for a way to tell Walt’s story, epistolary form occurred to me as a possibility. Walt is plagued by guilt because he’s become a success by taking credit for Bolt’s accomplishments. He needs to confess, and to whom should he confess if not to his mother? In the third story in the series, “True Romance,” Walt’s widowed mother emerges from the letters when she pays Walt a long visit and wins the heart of Sergeant Bolt. That story is told in the form of a long letter from Walt to his ever-patient wife, Ellen. Of course, Walt has no idea that his mother and Bolt have fallen in love, just as he has no idea of what’s going on in the case he and Bolt are investigating; readers have all the evidence they need to realize the truest romance in “True Romance” is the blossoming one between Bolt and Mrs. Johnson, but Walt never suspects. All the other stories, as I recall, are written as letters from Walt to his mother—except that by the eleventh story, “True Test,” Walt has switched to e-mail, and breaks off suddenly when Ellen goes into labor with their second child. The final story, “True Enough,” is a letter Walt writes to his mother while she and Bolt are on their honeymoon.

B.K. Stevens bibliography

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Jul/Aug 2018

AHMM Jul/Aug 2018Contents
Linda Landrigan: Lights! Camera! Murder! (introduction)
The Lineup
Rebecca Cantrell “Homework” art by Ally Hodges
Kevin Egan “The Movie Lover”
Mark Lagasse: Mixed-Up Grandmasters (puzzle)
Eve Fisher “Blue Moon”
Mysterious Photograph $25 fiction contest “Hanging House”
David Edgerley Gates “I Pray the Lord My Soul to Take”
Robert Mangeot “Book of Hours” art by Hank Blaustein
Solution to May/Jun “Dying Words”
Meredith Frazier “Safe”
Linda Mannheim “Documents”
Robert C. Hahn: Booked & Printed
Eric Rutter “Hateful in the Eyes of God”
Christopher Latragna “A Lousy Little Grand” art by AJ Frena
Robert S. Levinson “Nine Years Later”
Editor’s Note marks the passing of Albert Ashford and Robert S. Levinson
Albert Ashford “A Tragedy Averted”
Arlene Fisher: Dying Words acrostic puzzle
Josh Pachter “Not My Circus . . .”
Mark Thielman “The Black Drop of Venus” Black Orchid Novella Award
The Story That Won (Mar/Apr) “Don’t Let the Grass Grow Under Your Wheels” by Craig M. Hanson
Coming in AHMM Sep/Oct
Directory of Services/Indicia
Classified Marketplace

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Vol. 63 No. 7 & 8 Jul/Aug 2018
Publisher: Peter Kanter
Editor: Linda Landrigan
Associate Editor: Jackie Sherbow
Senior Director of Art & Production: Porter C. McKinnon
Senior AD: Victoria Green
Cover: Maggie Ivy
192 pages
$7.99 on newsstands until August 21, 2018
Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine website

AHMM and EQMM Mystery Value Pack-8 $7.95
AHMM and EQMM Mystery Value Pack-16 $12.95
Mystery Double Issue Value Pack-12 $15.95


AHMM May/Jun 2018 coverIn May 2017, I asked author B.K. Stevens about the differences between Alfred Hitchcock’s and Ellery Queen’s mystery magazines. Here is her response from her interview that appears in The Digest Enthusiast book six:

“I don’t see sharp differences between the two digests—they’re both excellent mystery magazines, and I enjoy them both and have friends who write for each. Some people say AHMM is more open to stories with paranormal elements; I’ve never done a careful comparison, but that rings true. It hasn’t really been a consideration for me, though, since I didn’t write my first story with a paranormal element until recently. (It’s called “One-Day Pass,” and I’m happy to say AHMM accepted it a couple of months ago. But it’s an old-fashioned ghost story, rather than a story featuring trendier creatures such as zombies or shape-shifters—I think either magazine would be open to that sort of story.) It may also be that AHMM is more open to over-the-top humor, which I love. Again, though, I’ve never made a real comparison.”

Stevens’ “One-Day Pass” appears in the May/June 2018 edition of AHMM.

Michael Bracken Interview

TDE8 pages

Award-winning author and copywriter, Michael Bracken, delivers a terrific 17-page interview for The Digest Enthusiast book eight. Michael is the author of over 1,200 short stories and several novels. He garnered the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement in short mystery fiction in 2016. Shown here is the opening spread that kicks off the discussion that includes career highlights, writing tips and techniques, and comments on his stories from Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Espionage, Weird Menace, AHMM, Mystery Weekly Magazine, EQMM, Needle, Down & Out: The Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and others. TDE8 is coming soon.

Note: Photography by Amber Bracken.

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine May/Jun 2018

AHMM May/Jun 2018 coverContents
Linda Landrigan: Plots, Schemes, Entrapments (introduction)
The Lineup
Emily Devenport “10,432 Serial Killers (In Hell)” art by Scott Fisher
Mark Lagasse: Mixed-Up Sleuths (puzzle)
John H. Dirckx “Blowout at the Carnival”
Jane K. Cleland “I Am a Proud American”
Deborah Lacy “Taking Care”
Solution to Mar/Apr “Dying Words”
Arlene Fisher: Dying Words acrostic puzzle
Steve Liskow “The Girl in the Red Bandanna”
Leslie Budewitz “All God’s Sparrows” A Stagecoach Mary Story, art by AJ Frena
Tara Laskowski “The Case of the Vanishing Professor”
Mysterious Photograph $25 fiction contest “The Duffer Dodge”
Thomas K. Carpenter “The Worth of Felines”
John C. Boland “The Three Dog Problem”
Robert C. Hahn: Booked & Printed
Neil Schofield “Shopping for Fun and Profit”
Dayle A. Dermatis “Bothering with the Details” art by Hank Blaustein
Marianne Wilski Strong “The Abbot and the Garnets”
B.K. Stevens “One-Day Pass”
Mystery Classic: Julia McNiven “Death at Devil’s Hole” introduced by Shelly Dickson Carr
The Story That Won (Jan/DFeb) “Poetic Justice” by Rudy Uribe, Jr.
Coming in July/August
Directory of Services/Indicia
Classified Marketplace

AHMM May/Jun 2018 back coverAlfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Vol. 63 No. 5 & 6 May/Jun 2018
Publisher: Peter Kanter
Editor: Linda Landrigan
Associate Editor: Jackie Sherbow
Senior Director of Art & Production: Porter C. McKinnon
Senior AD: Victoria Green
Cover: Mattjeacock/iStock.com
192 pages
$7.99 on newsstands until June 19, 2018
Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine website

AHMM and EQMM Mystery Value Pack-8 $7.95
AHMM and EQMM Mystery Value Pack-16 $12.95
Mystery Double Issue Value Pack-12 $15.95

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Mar/Apr 2018

AHMM 3/4 2018 coverContents
Linda Landrigan: Crime Travels (introduction)
The Lineup
Dara Carr “Off-Off-Off Broadway”
R.T. Lawton “The Left Hand of Leonard”
Tom Larsen “Los Cantantes de Karaoke” A Wilson Salinas Mystery of Ecuador, art by Hank Blaustein
Solution to Jan/Feb “Dying Words”
Bill Pronzini & Barry N. Malzberg “Night Walker”
Mysterious Photograph $25 fiction contest “Don’t let the grass grow under your wheels!”
Michael Bracken “The Mourning Man”
Max Gersh “Fair Game”
Arlene Fisher: Dying Words acrostic puzzle
Dale Berry “The Trail” (comic)
Michael A. Black “Walking on Water”
Robert Lopresti “Nobody Gets Killed”
Robert C. Hahn: Booked & Printed
Shauna Washington “Knockoffs”
Tim Chapman “Handy Man”
Martin Limón “High Explosive” art by Tim Foley
Mario Milosevic “The Hitchhiker’s Tale”
The Story That Won (Nov/Dec) “Widow’s Tears” by Jess Harris
Classified Marketplace

AHMM 3/4 2018 backAlfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Vol. 63 #3 & 4 Mar/Apr 2018
Publisher: Peter Kanter
Editor: Linda Landrigan
Associate Editor: Jackie Sherbow
Senior Director of Art & Production: Porter C. McKinnon
Senior AD: Victoria Green
Cover: Czgur/iStock.com
192 pages
$7.99 on newsstands until April 24, 2018
Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine website

AHMM and EQMM Mystery Value Pack-8 $7.95
AHMM and EQMM Mystery Value Pack-16 $12.95
Mystery Double Issue Value Pack-12 $15.95

2017 Total Paid Distribution

The release of the Jan/Feb issues of Dell’s digest magazines marks the first year of their bi-monthly, double-issue format. The issues also provide the publisher’s statements of ownership, which include the average number of copies for a variety of categories, over a preceding 12-month period, for the print editions.

Magazines print more copies than they sell through subscriptions and newsstands. For the big five digests, excess inventory is offered in Value Packs on their websites. A great opportunity for readers to try out recent issues of a title at a fraction of its regular price.

Dell and F&SF sell far more issues via subscriptions than newsstands. For the most part, combining the two gives you the total paid circulation. However, it’s important to note these numbers don’t include digital sales, which are likely on the rise. Below is the “total paid distribution” from Jan/Feb 2017 and 2018 of the print editions:

2017 13,527
2018 12,962

2017 19,963
2018 18,957

2017 13,978
2018 13,320

Ellery Queen
2017 16,472
2018 15,486

2017 11,108
2018 11,429

Except for F&SF, the year-over-year numbers show declines of ~500–1000. Is this due to thicker, less frequent issues, general magazine publishing trends, distribution challenges, or something else? Without numbers on digital edition sales, it’s unclear. But I will share some anecdotal evidence about my experience buying the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of AHMM. (I generally buy magazines at a newsstand to avoid subscription mailing labels.)

Shortly after the new Dell books were out, I went to Rich’s Cigar Store on SW Alder, which to my knowledge is the largest magazine shop in Portland, Oregon. Dell’s two SF digests were there, but not AHMM. They still had five copies of the previous issue on display.

After the holidays I tried Powell’s in Cedar Hills. They had EQMM and F&SF, but no Hitchcock. A week or two later I called Powell’s to see if it had arrived. The CSR couldn’t locate the issue or the title, despite the fact that I have purchased it there before.

My fallback is wwnewstand on ebay, but as of yesterday they still were not offering it.

I finally found a copy at Barnes & Nobel at Bridgeport Village. After my purchase, there was only one remaining. I also learned you could buy a single issue AHMM from the B&N website. Good to know of another backup option.

I think the difficulty points to the distributor. When I asked for an issue of Strand Magazine at Rich’s one day this fall, the manager told me they were never quite sure what the distributor was going to give them. Apparently, in the case of the current AHMM—zero. As of my last trip there in mid-January, Rich’s still had five copies of Nov/Dec 2017 on display.

Genre digest publishers—even the big five—have their challenges. If you like what they do, please support them at the newsstand, online, or through subscriptions. The world needs stories, and they publish some of the best.

Note: Total paid distribution numbers for Fate and Nostalgia Digest are not listed here, as I didn’t find any Statements of Ownership in recent issues.

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Jan/Feb 2018

Happy Holidays art by Ally Hodges
The Lineup
Michael Nethercott “Sinners at Eight” art by Hank Blaustein
Marianne Wilski Strong “Louisa and the Lighthouse”
Peter Sellers “Christmas Help”
Mysterious Photograph $25 fiction contest “End Game”
John M. Floyd “Scavenger Hunt”
S. Frederic Liss “Coroners Don’t Change Faces” photo by Ron Chironna
Arlene Fisher Dying Words acrostic puzzle
Janice Law “The Crucial Game”
John H. Dirckx “Go for the Juggler”
David Edgerley Gates “A Multitude of Sins”
Robert C. Hahn Booked & Printed
James Lincoln Warren “The Chinese Dog Mystery” art by Ally Hodges
Robert Lopresti “Train Tracks”
Alex C. Renwick “Shallow Sand”
David Hagerty “Fair Trade”
Dorothy L. Sayers “Nebuchadnezzar” (Mystery Classic selected by B.K. Stevens)
The Story That Won (Sep/Oct) “Carried Away” by Bruce Harris
Statement of ownership, management, and circulation
Classified Marketplace

AHMM cover

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Vol. 63 #1 & 2 Jan/Feb 2018
Publisher: Peter Kanter
Editor: Linda Landrigan
Associate Editor: Jackie Sherbow
Senoir Director of Art & Production: Porter C. McKinnon
Senior AD: Victoria Green
Cover: Corey Brickley
192 pages
$7.99 on newsstands until Feb. 20, 2018
Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine website

AHMM back cover